Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Arsenal seal victory over gallant Greeks

Tonight was an important match. We had to bounce back form the very disapointing result at the weekend, and we had to show we were not the frail Arsenal of old, but a side that was strong enough to mount a challenge for the title.

I suppose you cant really say we were that impressive, but in these Champions League fixtures, it is all about the result. Getting three points on the board is a massive plus, and puts us in a very comfortable position.

Truth be told, we were slightly sluggish in the first half. Bould afterwards explained that we had taken a lot out of ourselves at the weekend, and that somewhat explains the lacklustre display. The man covering for the banned Arsene Wenger said: "We kicked the game off not too badly, but then we looked a little nervous, maybe the result from the weekend drained us a little bit."

Yet that shouldn't take anything away from the Greek champions. Despite their awful record in Europe, and especially in England, Olympiacos gave an excellent account of themselves. They were very well organised in defence, under the stewardship of new manager Leonardo Jardim, and despite not having at least 5 key members of their first team they matched Arsenal in almost every department. They also retained possession well and were "technically very sound" as Bould said in his post match interview.

Up front, instead of the dynamic freescoring Djebbour, they had an equally exciting forward in Mitroglou. He made some great runs and scored a brilliant headed goal, and just generally he caused the Arsenal defence a lot of problems.

Their midfield was also great at closing the team down and smothering our midfielders, especially Cazorla. This was recognised by Bould who said "Santi  couldn't get on the ball in the first half and we tried to correct that at half-time, and I thought we improved."

Vermaelen and Koscielny were reunited, in an unexpected twist following their poor performance together on Saturday. But with Mertesacker out with an illness, they may be in line to start this weekend. Together they were yet again in unimpressive. Koscielny was arguably luck to stay on the pitch, after a dodgy challenge early on, whilst Vermaelen carried on his usual form of giving away free kicks on the edge of the box. They were also very sloppy in possession, along with Mannone and the main threat to the Arsenal goal came from defensive mistakes.

Yet in the second half the defence was much stronger, and easily held off a late charge from the Greek side. Hopefully they can continue that second half form if they are to play against the Hammer on Saturday.

In midfield, Ramsey was not selected, but Coquelin partnered Arteta and together they generally coped well in a packed midfield, and shielded the defence well. However they were at time susceptible for giving the ball away in dangerous areas.

Cazorla was his enthusiastic self and was at the centre of Arsenal attacks, but it was Gervinho who was the main man. The Ivorian is a slight enigma, due to his unpredictability. Nobody knows what he is about to do next, probably least of all him, and he can really cause opposition defences problems. He scored a decent goal in the end of the first half and earned an assist for Podolski's finish. Afterwards the skipper discussed his upturn in form, saying "He's doing great. For me he had a great pre-season as well. In the matches he is scoring a lot of goals. He's quick and he's quite busy, so I'm happy for him."

As we started to control the match in the second half, we could quickly slice through the defence, but the second goal was again slightly fortunate. Gervinho played a one-two off an Olympiacos defender in the box, before passing to Podolski who turned well and played it through a defenders legs and off the keeper into the goal. It was a powerful strike from the German, but the 'keeper should definitely have done better and it is easy to see why Roy Carroll has started in every league game so far from them.

It was good for Podolski to grab a goal, as his performances in the City and Chelsea games were not at the standard that he had set himself. In those games he cut himself an isolated figure, and struggled to get into the games and truly dominate, which resulted in him being substituted. Tonight he grabbed a goal, which will give him a great confidence boost to take into the game on Saturday.

In the second half, we started to keep the ball more successfully, which is absolutely vital in European games, and finished the match with 57% possession. However it was no plain sailing. The Greeks made a lot of attacking substitutions and we did drop quite deep for the last ten minutes, in a similar situation to last year where managed to hang on for the 2-1 victory.

This year though, in the 94th minute Mannone's goal-kick was flicked on by substitute Giroud to fellow sub Aaron Ramsey who charged into the box and finished beautifully, chipping the ball over the keeper into the net. A goal Giroud would have loved.

Onto the Frenchman who would probably have been disappointed not to start the game. When he did come on eventually,he did threaten the Greek defence. He got his assist and was overall unlucky yo get on the score-sheet after a shot was blocked. For me, he needs a run of games to get into form and then the goals will come. Whilst there are comparisons to Chamakh, he has much better movement than the Moroccan and hopefully his finishing can come back to him.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him start the game at the weekend, to help with the aerial threat that will undoubtedly arise form any Sam Allardyce side. Yet given the form of Gervinho, Wenger will have a choice to make there.

To conclude we are in an excellent position after two matches. In his post-match interview, Vermaelen said "I think it gives us a lot of confidence, six out of six and that's really important," which excellently sums it up. Schalke and Montpellier shared the spoils tonight in the other clash, so we are comfortably in first place ahead of the double header against the Germans.

We have to take the positives from this game, which were mainly in the second half, and use them in Saturday's fixture against an impressive West Ham side. We need to put together an unbeaten run now and start putting three points on the board. I feel that in October, with us facing West Ham (a) Norwich (a) Schalke^ (h) QPR (h) and Reading* (a), that we can win every game and probably should expect to win every fixture this month if we want to challenge for the title.

Let's start with 3 points on Saturday though!

^ Champions League Fixture
* Capital One Cup Fixture

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